As usual, I'm behind on most series, so even though the next entry in the Paper Mario series just came out in Europe (the crossover with the Mario & Luigi series, entitled Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam), I just finished the previous entry, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, which was released three years ago (in 2012).

I'd played the previous three entries and had liked the first two okay but quite disliked the third one (on Wii). The main problem I have with the series in general is that the pace is really slow and there's a ton of text to wade through. Sticker Star drastically cuts down on the amount of dialogue, which is a big plus in my book. Things also seem to progress more quickly in general, as the game is structured as a series of bite-sized stages, rather like the Wii game, but here the stages feel more compact and it feels like there's much less tedious filler.

My playthrough went pretty smoothly at first, but as many other reviewer have noted, there are several parts where you'll get completely stuck about where to go next. The game requires you to revisit some completed stages without much indication about what you're supposed to be doing, and there was one mechanic in particular that I found misleading, where you're required to use a "Thing" sticker (everyday objects, such as a sponge and a vacuum cleaner, that in sticker form become formidable weapons) at particular places, but the space where you're supposed to put your sticker looks much larger than the sticker you're actually supposed to be using. Boss battles also have a similar problem, where you're required to use a special sticker at the exact right point in the boss fight, and so require some trial and error. "Stickerizing" and using "Thing" stickers to progress the story make up a nice game mechanic in general and recalls the "flip to 3D" mechanic from the Wii title (but is much better), although they also slow things down somewhat as in some areas you'll be spending a fair amount of time trying to figure out how to proceed. This mechanic also brings to mind classic point-and-click adventures such as Maniac Mansion, but, as with those games, at times the game's logic is a bit at odds with your own logic.

I enjoyed the sticker mechanic, although as with most RPGs, battles get pretty dull. There are several sequences, moments, and elaborate stages that are particularly memorable (including a pyramid and a haunted mansion), and using the "Thing" stickers in battle often leads to a hearty chuckle (the High Heel sticker is one of the definite highlights). The game is also stuffed with optional useless achievements, and completists will have a somewhat more worthwhile to task to find every level's Secret Door and all the stickers and "Things" (although, again, a hint system would have gone a long way to motivating me to complete those particular useless achievements).

The game runs out of ideas before the end, and the last world feels like a let-down, but despite that and some frustration, overall I enjoyed this entry in the Paper Mario series about as much as the first game in the series. This is the first game in the series to appear on a handheld, and it survives the transition just fine. The game looks and sounds good, and it seems like visuals resembling cardboard are used much more extensively than I remember seeing in the series before, such that stages often look like elaborate, eye-catching dioramas. The game features some pretty good stereoscopic effects as well. Hopefully I'll be able to get caught up on the Mario & Luigi series before another Paper Mario game comes out!

Maniac Paper Mario: Sticker Star links:
- Entry at papermario.wikia.com. Includes complete list of stickers and their locations.
- Entry at www.mariowiki.com
- Entry at metacritic.com
- List of unlockables at GameFAQs
- Review at NintendoLife
- Official website
- Entry at Wikipedia

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